As if the rugged bluffs, world-famous bald eagles, and rich cultural heritage weren’t enough to attract you to Decorah in Iowa’s northeast corner, add to this list the Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm.
The incredible amount of seed diversity that was once available to our ancestors has been steadily declining for many decades. At risk of being lost forever, Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org) began collecting, preserving and distributing heirloom seeds back in 1975 and has since become a national leader in the preservation movement.
As part of the responsibility of housing one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the US (containing over 20,000 accessions), our non-profit organization grows hundreds of seed varieties from the collection each year. Unlike a traditional museum that may be able to store an artifact indefinitely, seeds are alive and occasionally need to be grown for a fresh seed supply. Visitors to Heritage Farm can stroll through the display gardens and enjoy the vibrant beauty and fragrant scents from hundreds of old-timey flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Each of these heirloom varieties is not only rich in beauty, aroma and flavor, but they’re often accompanied by stories that describe their history of being passed from generation to generation in the family or community they came from. These gardens truly are a living museum where the artifacts communicate their stories through all five senses.
Starting as a 57 acre farmstead, Heritage Farm has now grown to encompass 890 acres featuring dozens of certified organic gardens, a spring-fed trout stream and over eight miles of hiking trails that wind through wooded limestone bluffs and valley pastures. Within these pastures you’ll find herds of Ancient White Park Cattle, a beautiful and rare cattle breed with distinct white coats and black markings. Each summer the farm also features displays of unique heritage chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys.
A highlight for any visitor to Heritage Farm often includes a stop at the Historic Orchard, containing over 550 heritage apple varieties and more than one hundred cold-hardy grape varieties. Because apple varieties are preserved and propagated through grafting rather than seed saving, the historic orchard serves as a living gene bank for our diverse apple heritage. The orchard is always open to the public and visitors are encouraged to sample the diversity during fall harvest.
Anytime March through December is a good time to visit Heritage Farm. A trip during springtime will provide seeds and plants to start your own diverse heirloom garden; summertime features the gardens at their fullest and visits can be planned around events such as the Greg Brown benefit concert, Annual Conference and Campout, or Tomato Tasting events; autumn trips coincide with harvest time, fall colors and more fun-filled annual events. Visit our events webpage for a full list.
Possibly one of the most unique attractions unbeknownst to so many Iowans, Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm is an Iowa treasure everyone should enjoy.
Seed Savers Exchange